The candidates in House District 33 showed a sharp contrast during a forum in Havre Thursday.
Retired Montana State University-Northern professor Brenda Skornogoski, who is challenging first-term Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, said that she wants to take her values to Helena to represent her constituents and avoid partisan bickering.
Skornogoski said, as a grandchild of eastern Montana homesteaders, “I understand Montana’s rugged individualism, and I share their commitment to (keep) their land, their neighbors, their right to privacy and their aversion to a sales tax. ”
Hansen said the reports of partisanship are exaggerated.
“You have heard that the last legislative session was a do-nothing session, ” she said “You have heard that it was a crazy session, you have heard that it was the worst partisanship in a long, long time. I just want to set the record straight on that. ”
The last Legislature passed a number of bills — 74 were vetoed — that had a purpose and intent to improve the outlook of Montana, she said, citing a bill that would have required the state to put the budget online, which was vetoed, and worker’s compensation reform, which went into law.
The two candidates contrasted sharply on several issues, including on a question of using vouchers for education funding, giving the family the choice of where to spend it.
Hansen said the Montana Constitution sets the goal of developing the full educational potential of each person.
The more-than-100-year-old Montana education system has served the state well, she said.
“We are at a point in our development, in our society, in our technological advances, in our creativity, in our ability to innovate, that will allow us to move away from the old agrarian cycle of education and the old standardized one teacher in the front of the classroom … we have the ability now, and the capability, and I believe we have the resources available to fund innovation in our education system that will allow us to go after the educational potential of each person. …
“I believe things like vouchers and charter schools have a role to play in that…, ” she said. “It is not required to have the schools do all of the work. ”
Skornogoski said she would like to see more individualized instruction in public schools, but “I have a great deal of concern about a voucher system. ”
The problem is, a voucher system would drag money out of the public schools, “when we’re already poor. … We have under funded education for a long time, and if we draw money out of the public system and put it in the private system, we will cheat(the schools), especially in our smaller towns. ”
Lack of funds could make programs like home economics, shop, art and music disappear, she said.
She said she also has problems with public money going to parochial schools, which she said would violate the separation of church and state.
On the question of the state having a right-to-work law, Skornogoski said she did not need the full 90-second time allowed.
“I will not vote for a right-to-work law, ” she said.
Hansen said her understanding is states set up different versions of right-to-work laws, and the issue did not come in the last Legislature, her first.
“I will not make any statements ever, on any bill … until the bill is in front of me and I can see what it says, ” she said. “And so I won’t answer that question directly, but I will say I believe in employee freedom, and I believe in the right to collectively bargain, and I will work on it from there. ”
After the meeting, Hanson noted that right-to-work legislation would not affect railroad workers, who are covered under federal law. In some states, she said, public employees are covered. In other states, they are not.